Atari Founder’s Startup Oomba Brings Flagship Title to Kickstarter

Oomba, a virtual goods platform which counts former Atari and Chuck. E. Cheese creator Nolan Bushnell as its co-founder, is hoping to bring recent acquisition and trading card game Xeko online, and it’s looking to Kickstarter, and a $250,000 funding goal, to help make that happen. Xeko will be Oomba’s flagship title, as seeks to attract others to its online virtual goods trading platform and marketplace.

Xeko isn’t a new game; as a physical board game, it enjoyed considerable success following its debut in 2006. Press hailed it as “Pokémon with a purpose,” since it featured real-world endangered animals and encouraged collection and trading among its players. Xeko co-founder Amy Tucker explained that while the game ran into trouble when the recession hit and nearly shut down, the Oomba team saw its promise, both in terms of its natural fit with the virtual goods platform they were creating, and with Oomba’s desire to be associated with games that not only inspire social activity, but are also focused on doing something more than just providing entertainment.

“From a gain content standpoint, Nolan is a big advocate for really positive content,” Tucker said, describing Xeko’s appeal to Oomba and their way of looking at games. “It doesn’t have to be violent, or sexy or whatever. You can have a great game that doesn’t rely on those crutches. Chess is a great example. The gameplay is about strategy and interacting with the person you’re playing with.”

As Xeko depends on users buying, trading and receiving virtual cards representing endangered species from around the globe, it’s also the perfect way for Oomba to show off its virtual goods platform. The company will eventually provide a way for any game developer to plug into what it tentatively calls “Gamebucks,” which will allow players to use virtual currency earned or purchased (the company will take a cut of virtual currency and goods purchased with real money through its partner developers) through Oomba in any game on the platform. Players will also be able to trade virtual goods directly, meaning that Oomba could eventually become an online trading post for any mobile or social game using in-game items, upgrades, rewards and purchases.

With Xeko’s move to online platforms, including mobile devices like the iPhone, the web and Facebook, it stands a good chance of benefitting from its inherent virality than it did as a physical board game, which should in turn help Oomba show off to potential developer partners what it can provide them in terms of revenue and social discovery opportunities.

Oomba’s real value in the long-term will be in getting publishers and developers on board, at which point the value proposition for players becomes apparent. “The trades can happen in-game [or via the web while not actively playing],” she said, explaining the platform’s benefits over using self-built options. “But then there’s also the added benefit of the secondary marketplace, where it’s not just one game, it’s hundreds of games.”

In partnering with and trying to revive a game like Xeko that has already proven its ability to appeal to audiences, and trying to make that work online, Oomba is taking a wise first step into becoming a key presence in online goods. And it’s a market that’s poised to grow, as evidenced by Farmville’s deal with AmEx that rewards real-world shopping with virtual currency, so a potential play to become the back channel of that kind of transaction could pay off considerably.

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